- Dick Powell, Chairman of D&AD Awards and Co-founder and Chairman of Seymourpowell
- Christina Melander, Programme Director of Danish Design Centre and Head of Danish Design Award
- Mark Wee, Founder and Principal of Annex A/
- Hunter Tura, Chairman and CEO of Bruce Mau Design
On Friday morning, while “the kids” were speaking of the impossible, a group of equally animated designpreneurs gathered at Collision 8 to discuss all matters at the intersection of design and business.
The first of the Design x Business Series co-organised by the President’s Design Award (PDA) and Design Business Chamber Singapore (DBCS) was aimed at setting up an opportunity for design entrepreneurs to meet with design and business leaders in a cosy environment. Forty designers were invited to the session to exchange candid opinions on promoting design adoption to corporations and have frank conversations about challenges faced in running a design business.
Leading the discussion were four design and business veterans from the PDA 2017/18 Jury – Dick Powell, Christina Melander, Mark Wee and Hunter Tura – who were fresh from the two-day Design Panel Jury Session to select the 2017/18 recipients. Andrew Pang, President of DBCS, facilitated the discussion, captaining a conversation that ran from struggling businesses, the growing responsibility of designers, new frontiers in design fields, problems with the design education system and even an intriguing “What are we designing to help poor farmers?” question.
The nuggets of wisdom and take-aways were plentiful, but here were the most resonant discussions:
1. “Design-think yourself!”
The world is changing under our feet; products and systems are getting more complex; and the economic trend of “Walmartisation” – large corporations buying out smaller outfits – is changing the landscape of business. Many small-medium design enterprises are facing a plethora of new challenges today. Mark Wee asked the audience: Are designers doing what they tell their clients to do? Are designers innovating and “changing upstream”? “Don’t be a ‘design-osaur’,” cautioned Dick Powell.
2. How do I build my design business?
Hunter Tura introduced his “Fun, Fame, Fortune” metric – do you take on a project because it’s fun and stimulating, because it will grow your reputation and profile, or because it pays very well? It should be one of those things – otherwise, don’t take the job.
And if you are a designer who says “the clients don’t get me – remember, it is your job to make the clients get you!”, said Christina Melander, who leads design business innovation work on Europe-wide platforms. She added that “the landscape of your clients is changing”, and designers need to evolve in tandem on when it comes to communicating with clients.
It’s all about getting the fundamentals right too. Dick related a comment he heard: “You are ten times more expensive – are you ten times better?” Be cognizant of your client’s budget, and tailor your process to their budget. So many designers fail at the basic task of following the brief.
Hunter cautioned against driving growth at the cost of credibility. You could take that job, but should you? Is it your core business and are you the best person to do it? Find one thing you do, and do that incredibly well. Don’t try to do too many things.
3. Designers: What’s your new role?
Hunter lamented the lack of holistic thinking behind much of today’s designs. The smartphone is one of the largest culprits, with its planned obsolescence and discarded technology. Why is this not part of the conversation? He challenged the group about rethinking the responsibility of designers to do “less” by actively designing to reduce post-consumer waste. Dick mentioned the Fairphone; as a good example of design trying to address these issues.
The smartphone situation highlights the power of experience, though. Mark pointed out: “You just can’t pull yourself away!” Everything is increasingly becoming about experience; the disciplines-in-silos are being eroded, and designers need to take thinking about the wider picture. “Your brand is the sum of your actions,” Mark said. How can designers make sustainability part of that brand? Think about your design as part of a holistic system, Christina urged.
Andrew closed the session with a call to action for designers to level up their skills and reach out to business.
DBCS organises a host of workshops, forums and networking sessions, including the Design Kitchen Series; which brings together designers and businesses to help the latter understand how design principles and solutions-by-innovations can be applied to challenges in their organisations.
Thank you to all who came and supported us in creating better synergy between the design and business worlds. Do keep an eye out for future Design x Business events organised by the PDA team!